In Britain we talk about the weather. A lot. At the moment we’re enjoying a hot summer with some showers. Back in the summer of 1850 when John and Charlotte Dinnis lived in Brighton with their young family I think they would have talked about the weather a lot too.
There was a violent storm on Wednesday 17th July 1850. It began at 6.30pm and only lasted for one hour.
Lithograph by R. Canton. From the private collection of Hazel Bradley
The Dinnis family were living in Middle Street at the time, which is just to the right of the picture. John Dinnis and Charlotte ran a lodging house and had four young children and were expecting another. Daughter Catherine Ann was 12; John Henry was 6; Fanny was 4 and young Harry just 2. This must have been such a frightening evening for them.
The following extract comes from www.rpmcollections.wordpress.com : “The Brighton Herald published a story about a violent storm that flooded Pool Valley with nearly six feet of water. Torrential rain swept down the narrow streets of the Old Town and, despite the best efforts of their occupants, many buildings were wrecked. According to the newspaper report, ‘The surface water poured into houses through the floors and windows, vainly closed to keep it out, while the drains beneath burst … and shot their contents like a jet into kitchens and cellars.’ ”
Another website www.thisbrighton.co.uk states: “On 17th July 1850 the town was hit by a ferocious thunder and lightning storm which though it lasted for under an hour turned the whole of Valley Gardens (from the Level to the Steine) into a shallow lake and flooded the basements of most of the houses in the lower part of the town. The water then exited to the sea via Pool Valley, and the buildings around the valley were flooded to a height of over five feet. The days leading up to the storm had been very hot. On the day before, dense sea fog had covered the town. And then around 6.30pm on Wednesday 17th the storm broke: ‘Then came – suddenly, as like the explosion of a bomb shell – one terrible clap of thunder, which seemed to shake the town to its foundations…'(Brighton Herald).”
From the Brighton Sewer site www.subbrit.org.uk we learn that until the mid 1800s, the bulk of Brighton’s household sewage drained into cesspools at the back of properties. This unpleasant arrrangement changed in 1860 when the town council resolved to build a system that would drain into the sea. This article also explains Brighton’s pebbly beaches, as when they were building the sewers the Victorian bricklayers took hundreds of tonnes of sand from the beach to make ‘pug’ to cement millions of bricks. There are tours of the Victorian sewers: http://www.southernwater.co.uk/at-home/your-area/days-out/brighton-sewer-tours/
One imagines the young Dinnis children being very frightened as the thunder boomed and lightning lit up the sky while their home must have been flooded and ruined. Could this have been the reason they moved at around this time to Ship Street? Perhaps their house had become uninhabitable and they needed to move their young family from Middle Street. Ship Street is the next street along, but they moved to the Old Ship Hotel where John Dinnis would work as a Cook. One imagines the Hotel was better able to withstand the flooding and danger.